The chronicles of Burrito's bizarre adventure into Japanese.

November retrospective (and a few thoughts)

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Whereas October was great success in many ways, November was a bit more of a mixed bag. Some interesting things to report, though.

First, I had challenged myself to read as much of the visual novel Umineko no Naku Koro ni as possible, and not a day went by that I didn’t spend at least 30, 45 minutes reading it – usually an hour or more. I knew this would be a massive undertaking, as I had read a big of the English translation some years ago and knew the kind of complex language this VN was going to throw at me, not to mention how detailed and long the thing was.

At first, I had planned to approach it in a way similar to Berserk, mainly that I’d jot down unknown words of interest/importance, slap those muthas in a text file and eventually haul them off to Anki Land. I soon decided, however, that I’d simply read and make use of Translation Aggregator when I really needed to know the meaning of a word or expression. This turned out to work fantastic, allowing me to learn dozens of new words and grammar points through repetition (something Umineko is very good at), and further cemented my belief that the role of SRS should be kept to the bare minimum essentials, such as kanji. More on that some other day, though.

The big (and really, only) problem with reading Umineko is that it’s clearly a hop, skip and a jump above my comfortable level. Truth be told, it probably doesn’t help that it’s technically my first Japanese-language novel, if one can consider a visual novel such (and I don’t see why not) – the amount of narration and description is a little intimidating (and exhausting) at times, when I’m so used to going off of mostly character dialogue. Narration aside, the amount of difficult, varied and obscure vocabulary turned out to be my biggest hurdle, above all else. Some scenes (for instance, Kinzo’s maniacal rants, or financial discussions between the parents) had me looking up practically every other word, oftentimes using three or four different words which all basically meant the same damn thing but with subtle nuance. Others, on the other hand (mostly the younger characters talking amongst themselves), were practically as clear as day.

I’m a big believer that interest should take precedence over difficulty (real, or perceived) any day of the week. I had badly wanted to read Berserk in October, and I did, and learned a truckload because of it (and discovered it wasn’t quite as difficult as I expected). I had badly wanted to read Umineko, and I did, and made a respectable dent probably equal to at least 100 pages or more, learned a truckload, and also learned where my weaknesses still lay. I recommend that anyone around the intermediate level or higher follow their interests and passions now rather than putting off things they actually want to read/watch/play, with fears that said material will be too difficult, as I had done many times before.

That having been said, there’s certainly a point where difficulty begins eating into one’s enjoyment. It’s rarely much fun skipping over or looking up several words per page, especially during a particularly exciting, engaging part (though I’ve noticed that I’m more likely to look up words during those scenes – don’t wanna miss those little details!). It’s still my belief that interest and enjoyment are most important above all else, and that even the most difficult material can be read/watched/played given sufficient amounts of both, but it’s also good to know one’s limits and when it’s time to put the thing down and shift focus to something else.

That’s not to imply that I intend on giving up on Umineko, though; I’m still going to try and read at least a little bit every day. But at this point in time, I strongly feel that my time would be much better invested right now in other, slightly less difficult things, such as continuing Berserk, a handful of other manga, various games (some of which I’ve been halfway into for months now…) and novels (including the ubiquitous Harry Potter, which happens to be right up my alley in terms of language). I’m a little disappointed, but I think I’ve made the correct choice.

The cool thing is that I have a great motivator on the horizon in Umineko’s 8th episode, which is due to be released at Comiket at the end of December. As hype builds (and I’m great at being hyped up…), I’m far more likely to delve back in and catch up, as I did with Berserk. It will require a miracle to actually read through the previous seven in time, of course, but let’s not sweat those small details.

Apart from getting sea kitties on, I’ve had a handful of observations I’m able to put to practical use now, such as:

  • I SUCK at multitasking.

The more things I have available to do at any given time, the more likely I am to do absolutely none of them. I do not understand this phenomenon, yet I’ve seen it occur time after time to myself. It’s like grabbing bits and samples of everything from the salad bar: I want to try everything, naturally, but I just can’t seem to savor and enjoy any one of them until I settle on just one – perhaps a little side dish or two. Ignoring the fact that I’m not a big fan of salad, this has been quite the curse, especially considering my jack-of-all-trades nature.

When I focus on just one or two things, on the other hand, amazing things tend to happen. This is a guy who was known to play ridiculous, 12-hour+ long RPG sessions with hardly a break; someone who occasionally puts off such trivial things as sleep or meals for the sake of putting more time into an important project. I know that the focus is there, I simply need to trim the fat and get down to those things I’d really like to do above all else.

I saw this phenomenon in action in October, when I made loads of progress particularly in one thing I was greatly focused on. In November, when I was juggling between a handful of different things (Umineko, a few different games, a handful of books), I saw this manifest again in my significantly decreased focus and (pardon the P-word) productivity. Granted, I got plenty done and learned quite a bit, but not nearly as much as I should have.

And speaking of trimming the fat…

  • Enjoyment above all else

Expanding somewhat on what I said above, I firmly believe that interest and enjoyment trump anything in regards to learning a language. Reading manga, watching movies, reading novels and playing RPGs are what are most enjoyable for me – flipping through Anki, reading about grammar points and cramming word lists are very rarely enjoyable to me. Whereas long ago, about 75% of my study time consisted of SRS, now it probably makes up for 5-10%, at the most. This isn’t a knock to SRS, as I think we all know the benefits and flexibility of the little guy (well, those of us who have actually used the thing and aren’t interested in waging holy war, anyway), but in many ways – at risk of sounding like an elitist prick – I feel like I’ve outgrown it.

Yes, my learning would be more rapid and efficient if I worked SRS and word lists back into my daily regimen, but is it really worth taking away time from my reading, watching, playing for? At least at my level, I don’t think so. I’m sticking to my kanji deck and occasionally reviewing some grammar sentences, but these are strictly supplementary to my real studies.

  • Listening still = sucks, listen more!

It’s not surprising that my listening hasn’t improved much, when the brunt of my study time has been spent on reading. I do believe that the internal voice of reading has some benefit on one’s listening comprehension, but it’s hard to beat the real deal. I simply haven’t been watching much Japanese TV or movies, and I’ve sorely neglected the podcasts I used to listen to frequently. Time to fix that. I’ve been playing some of my favorites repeatedly in the background when I’m not reading or doing something else that requires my concentration (unfortunately, passive listening is awfully distracting to me), and I have literally days-on-end of anime and movies to dig through. More immersion, more betta.

  • Ereaders are frickin’ sweet for language learning.

Thanks in no small part to the #ajatt crew, as well as the suggestion of a few other buddies, I’ve joined the ereader bangwagon a few weeks ago after I nabbed myself a Barnes & Noble nook. I had actually planned to write a post about this little mamma jamma, but my laziness knows no bounds, so I’ll simply point toward BDH’s recent, awesomely resourceful and informative post instead. I’ve honestly yet to sink some serious time into mine yet, but I already love the thing. I’ll see if I can’t get a proper post with some details up in the next week or two.


As far as December goals, I think I’m going to focus on some games I’m halfway through and see how many I can complete before the end of the year (remember Project RPG-o-thon?) – this includes Chrono Trigger DS, Final Fantasy 7 and Dragon Quest 9 to name a few. Pokemon Black is a maybe, as I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy 1-on-1 RPG battles, ever (though I do love collecting those little fools).

I also plan on cramming in more listening, whenever possible, as this is still one of my weaker points (though it’s come a long way).

I’ll continue Umineko’s onslaught of brutal vocabulary, albeit to a slightly lesser extent – though time will tell if part 8 will influence me to get back in serious gear.

I’d also like to return to Berserk, although this is one of the manga I find difficult to read on my nook thanks to its oftentimes tiny text.

Finally, I’m gonna crank up the immersion dial yet another notch. Ideally, I plan on getting in more Japanese exposure than English in my daily exploits. At first glance, this seemed difficult if not impossible. After consideration, however, I’m confident I can pull this off, and I’m even more confident that increasing my exposure – while minimizing my usage of my mother tongue – will see my Japanese skill skyrocket on all levels. I have a hunch. Let’s see how this goes.

Here’s to a successful December, y’all.


Written by ritobito

December 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Posted in opinion, status report

2 Responses

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  1. Even if your December doesn’t go so well, January is sure to be productive :)

    also: Ereader crew checking in.


    December 1, 2010 at 3:12 pm

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